Don't Be Like Most Advisors Who Won’t Realize Their Business Vision
We work in an industry in which two-thirds of advisors say they are NOT on track to realize their business vision.
I find that sad, if not surprising. It’s sad for obvious reasons. It’s not entirely surprising because I’ve lived in the data for so long, digging deep into how advisors think about their businesses and their futures.
If you’re in the minority and exactly on track to realize your vision, then congratulations – it’s no small feat. If you’re in the majority then I’d suggest, humbly, that you need to look at your business planning very differently this year. Rather than thinking about incremental growth, I’d encourage you to think about your vision and the steps you need to take toward more transformative change.
Transformation, however, forces you to understand your starting point. You may be off track because you’ve ‘drifted’ or because you’ve ‘changed’ and that’s an important distinction.
- If you’ve drifted then it seems clear that you need to reconnect with your original vision, to understand why it was so compelling and to map out a plan that will get you back on track.
- If you’ve changed, then you need to invest the time in understanding what drives you today and ask if you have the courage to change your business to reflect that new vision.
Either way, getting back on track will require substantial effort and imagination. There are four things that are absolutely critical to getting back on track or re-defining your future.
1. Give Yourself Permission to Think Differently
If your goal is to live at the intersection of wild success and profound fulfillment, then you’ll not only need to act differently but to think differently.The more I study elite advisors, the more I realize that the challenge of hard work isn’t what holds people back. Too often we stumble on the first step—giving ourselves permission to envision a different future and coming to grips with the possibility of something greater for ourselves.
There are so many reasons we stop ourselves from being open to possibility, but three seem to dominate.
- Reaching for a bigger life opens up the possibility of failure. If we don’t articulate the dream, we never fail. If we don’t seek something more, we’re forced to be satisfied with what we have.
- It feels “selfish.” Many of us are trapped by a misguided sense of responsibility, one that keeps us moving in the same direction. It’s like being on a treadmill without being able to find the off switch.
- It requires extraordinary vision. Often, the thing that holds us back is not an unwillingness to work hard, but a distinct lack of imagination about what is possible.
Perhaps there’s a less dramatic reason that we don’t push forward and it’s simply that life isn’t that bad.
Jim Collins authored one of my favorite books, Good to Great. In my mind, the first line of that book captures everything that keeps us stuck. “Good,” Collins says, “is the enemy of great.” What he doesn’t explicitly say is that good isn’t that great. When we settle for what we have simply because we have it, life can feel flat.
2. Get gritty
The concept of grit is gaining significant popularity. According to Caroline Adams Miller, a positive psychology expert, coach, educator and author of Getting Grit, grit is an extraordinary quality, despite the overuse of the term.
The concept of grit, in an academic setting, was first defined by Angela Duckworth, who in 2013 won a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant Award for her work. She defined it as “passion and perseverance in pursuit of long-term goals”.
One of the things that Duckworth studied is what separates extraordinarily high achievers from people who are very talented and who, despite that talent, don’t seem to be finishing at the top of the pack. They determined that the secret sauce was grit. Among other things, grit predicts who will drop out of West Point and who will win the National Spelling Bee.
The word ‘grit’ doesn’t always belie how important and poignant the concept is in our lives. We’re talking here in a business context, but grit is everywhere. It’s the single mother who gets up two hours early to study to complete a degree, the father who works three jobs because he wants something better for his family. It’s opening yourself up to challenges that seem almost impossible and starting over as many times as it takes because you know the fight is worth the prize. It’s what gets you through the toughest times in your life, be that a divorce, a death or what you consider to be an epic failure.
I asked Miller if grit can be learned. She was definitive that yes, it could. She suggests three strategies to help you up the ‘grit’ factor in your life and these will be critical in your pursuit of Absolute Engagement:
- Stress reduction. Miller says that many of the high achievers she coaches are intentional about integrating things like meditation and exercise into their lives.
- Your network. Miller says that gritty people hang out with gritty people. At West Point, she says, their way of dealing with people with low grit scores is to room them with people with higher grit scores. She points out that that is social contagion theory in action and it’s brilliant.
- Optimism. You can also learn to be more hopeful and optimistic. Many of the uber-successful use coaches to help them nurture this quality. Ultimately grit is about learning the traits of optimism and also hope, and this is a new muscle for many.
3. Nurture a Growth Mindset
As you move along the path toward your vision you’ll also need to nurture what researcher Carol Dweck refers to as a “growth mindset.” Dweck is one of the world’s leading authorities on the subject of motivation and is a professor of psychology at Stanford University. A growth mindset refers to the idea that we can grow our brain’s capacity to learn and to solve problems. To achieve a great future we need to believe that we can learn and change and do things differently.
And what might sound slightly obvious is most certainly not, as Dweck’s research uncovers. The key to successful transformation, she found, is about whether you look at ability as something inherent or something that can be developed. Is it a bone or a muscle? In the case of the former, ability is fixed and is something to be “demonstrated.” In the latter, ability is “developed” and this is what she refers to as a “growth mindset.”
Why is this so important? It’s important because in order to take action on a vision that you may have had to pull from the recesses of your brain and heart and dust off, you’ll need to develop new skills. You’ll start, you’ll fail and you’ll push forward, but only if you believe that you not only deserve something more, but that you can learn how to improve.
To pursue a bigger vision is to take risks and to believe that you can learn to do things differently. Dweck points to a simple technique she saw used on school report cards. Rather than a failing grade, the report card said “not yet.” The children were under no illusions that they hadn’t done the work necessary to pass, but the message was clear that they just needed to keep trying rather than accepting the failure as an indictment on their future. When it feels tough, we may need to tell ourselves the same thing.
4. Clear the Decks
Perhaps the most important starting point of every great vision is clearing the decks – removing the obstacles that we put in our way. Personally,
I believe that change is only possible if you:
- stop allowing the past to create your direction in future
- start with a clean slate
- open your mind to possibility
- recognize the need for alignment between what’s important in your life and how you run your business
- accept the possibility that if you focus time and attention on the things for which you have the most passion, you’ll significantly increase your chances of success
Getting started may be a simple as asking yourself if any of these barriers are real for you and addressing your own behavior. We all need to hold a mirror up to ourselves from time to time.
What's an Investor to Do When History Doesn't Repeat Itself?
We’re in an era of extremes. It seems a day doesn’t go by without the word “historical” popping up in the financial news.
The equities market and consumer debt are at historical highs. Interest rates and high-yield credit spreads are at historical lows. We haven’t seen even a 5% pull-back in the market this year—for the first time since 1995—and the DJIA is exhibiting its narrowest trading range in history. These are indeed historical times. And whether this fact has you filled with extreme optimism or extreme pessimism, you have some important decisions to make going forward.
There are theories about how we landed in this particular era of extremes, and most are rooted in the significant changes that have impacted both how we live and how we invest. At the top of the list are globalization, automation, and the largest aging population in history (yet another “historical” to add to the list). It’s said that the most dangerous words in investing are, “it’s different this time,” yet one has to wonder if, in fact, it really is different this time. Not just because of the historical market highs. After all, there always has been and always will be a new market high waiting around the corner. What’s different today is the sheer number and confluence of these extreme highs and lows—and their duration. It’s a situation no investor has experienced before, which can make these waters feel pretty daunting. History repeats itself, and investment strategies are largely built on that conviction. But what do we do when it doesn’t? When history fails to repeat itself, how can investors plan for tomorrow with confidence that they are positioned to protect their assets and gain a reasonable level of yield?
The first step is to recognize that, at least in many ways, the investment landscape really is different this time around. All you have to do is look at the numbers to be sure of that fact. And the catalysts I mentioned before—globalization, automation, and the aging population—aren’t going anywhere. If anything, the impact of each will only grow as time moves on. What that means is that there’s no way to predict what’s coming next. The only thing we know for certain is that predictability is a thing of the past (if it ever really existed at all). The result: you need to approach your portfolio differently than you ever have before.
Your goal, of course, is to find return given a risk tolerance. Current yield is an important part of total return and getting it is an elusive proposition in today’s market. If, like many people, you’re less than confident that the four major sectors that currently drive the equities market—healthcare, discretionary, tech, and financial—are poised to continue to rise at even close to recent rates, it may be wise to seek out alternatives to help drive yield without adding more risk to the equation.
But if alternatives are the wise path forward, which alternatives are the best options?
Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs), Business Development Companies (BDCs), and energy stocks, traditionally the favored “non-correlated alternatives,” defied expectations when the stock market crashed in 2008, inconveniently revealing high correlations just as the equities market began its freefall. Anyone who was invested in these alternatives at the time knows all too well the devastating impact “non-correlated investments” can have on a portfolio, especially when they fail to do their job when it matters most.
Luckily, there is one alternative that can be counted on to remain uncorrelated to the traditional financial markets and, ultimately, deliver that precious yield: life insurance-based investments. And because this asset is literally built on one of the irreversible catalysts of change, the aging Baby Boomer population, owning life insurance may in fact be the ideal alternative to help investors generate non-correlated returns, regardless of where the market turns next. Even better, these investments typically deliver those returns with very low volatility.
What makes life insurance different is that, unlike typical alternative vehicles, secondary life insurance returns aren’t based on the economy. Instead, they are inherently non-correlated because returns are based solely on the longevity of the individual insureds.
As much as we would all love for the bull market to continue on its merry way, one thing history does tell us even today is that a bear market will come. It’s only a matter of when. As you strive to hedge your portfolios and prepare for the inevitable, life insurance-based investments are one tool that can help you achieve the three things you need most: diversification, low volatility, and yield.
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